The Best Trail Running Shoes 2020
The best trail running shoes will not only help you scale hills and even mountains easier but they can also come in handy when jogging off-road on winding forest trails in dry and wet weather. Let it be a muddy 5K right outside your front door or your next obstacle course race, make sure you choose the best trail running shoes for the task.
When it comes to your first pair of trail shoes we would always best to come into one of your local stores stores to get a proper shoe fitting, so we can make sure you end up with a suitable shoe for your foot strike and foot shape.
No amount of internet research compares to the experience of going into a specialist and trying on a variety of different options and jogging up and down outside in them.
So we’ve researched a large number of trail running shoes, and in this 2020 review we have featured most popular and highest performing trail runners available today.
WHICH TRAIL RUNNING SHOES ?
Trail runners, just like road-running shoes, come in numerous variants, with something to suit every style and level of running ability. High up the list of requirements for most people will be features and parameters like weight, grip, support/cushioning, durability and decent waterproofing.
Most of the big brands like Nike and Adidas offer adaptations of your favourite road runners, but there are plenty of other brands that specialise in off-road running, such as Inov-8 and Salomon, so don’t restrict your search to the obvious. Your perfect trail running partners might even come from a brand you’ve never tried before.
Have a think about where you’re going to run most. Do you want shoes that can cross comfortably from road to trail? Do you want a pair that’s going to help you get over tough, stoney tracks? Or perhaps you’re hitting hills that have just as much grass as dirt track?
Many online retailers offer free returns nowadays so feel free to order a few different pairs and choose the one that fits your running style the most. Running shoes in general should be an almost perfect fit, but when you tumbling over rocks and various terrain vegetation, how the shoes fit will become even more important of a requirement.
How do trail running shoes differ from road shoes?
“The main differences are the traction on the sole – trail running shoes have more and deeper lugs for a bigger surface area, which is designed to increase traction.
“The uppers tend to be knit meshes, so less debris can get into the shoe itself, and trail shoes generally have a lower offset – the heel height to the toe height is lower so the shoe is relatively flatter, giving a more stable platform to run on.
What lug depth should you look for on a trail shoe?
One key measure of a trail shoe is the depth of the lugs on the sole, as that will determine which terrain it’s best suited to.
It’s crucial to consider how much time you’ll be spending on road in your trail shoes, because the extra deep lugs that offer grip on muddy trails do the exact opposite on the road.
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Table of Contents
What is a rock plate and why do many trail shoes have one?
A rock plate or rock counter is basically a flexible piece of plastic that sits across the forefoot where you’re pushing off from,
If you’re on rocky ground then stones can push up into the foot. That, repeated over several hundreds or thousands of steps, can cause irritation to the foot. It’s a little bit of extra protection where the shoe absorbs more of the impact and disperses it over a greater area.
Why are trail shoes generally not waterproof?
If you’re heading for the hills for a hike, the first feature you might look for in walking boots is waterproofing, but most trail shoes are at most water-resistant.
“There is waterproofing available but the issue is that to make the shoe waterproof you have to wrap the upper under the whole of the midsole and then glue it down to create a complete seal,”
“This makes the shoe heavier and less flexible. It’s a trade-off. A lot of brands refer to their uppers as water-resistant, which means the material is probably waterproof but they haven’t wrapped it right underneath the foot and glued it to the sole. So it can only be called water-resistant as opposed to waterproof.
“Also waterproofing means a shoe is not particularly breathable so your foot gets very hot and sweaty. It’s a comfort thing. People will accept if they’re running off-road they’re going to get wet feet, in which case what’s really important is making sure you have good-quality running sock that you can get wet and sweaty in and not blister.”
Amazon's best selling waterproof socks for running
Recommended Best Trail Running Shoes
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 Review
Best Overall Trail Running Shoe
- Air Mesh Upper - Encourages breathability and ventilation.
- Moisture Management - Wicks away excess sweat and moisture.
- Sensifit System - Cradles the foot for a precise and secure fit.
- Endofit - An internal sleeve to hug and support the foot, improving feedback and foot wrapping.
- Skin Guard Lining - Adds comfort and protection.
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 22.7 oz.
The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is out (released early fall 2020)! We’ve ordered a pair and have commenced testing, but want to be sure we do a thorough job before publishing our findings. Check back soon for an update to this review. In the meantime, the S/Lab Ultra 2 can be found on closeout for a pretty fair price compared to the original MSRP, so if these great shoes interest you, get some now before they are gone. The S/Lab Ultra 2 is the signature shoe of Francois D’Haene, the most badass mountain 100-mile runner in the world (yes, he’s beat Kilian Jornet in the last few hundreds they toed the line together). It combines an amazingly protective polyurethane injected upper mesh with a dense, high-mileage EnergyCell EVA midsole to keep your foot protected better than nearly any we’ve tested, a top priority for torturous and technical 100 milers. It also fits like a glove, and scrambles over rocks as well as the best sticky rubber offerings from La Sportiva.
The biggest downside to this shoe is the exorbitant price tag. We believe that you are getting what you pay for but concede that this is a lot of money to pay for a temporary piece of equipment. Also, runners with wide feet may find the forefoot a bit too restrictive. If this sounds like you, try checking out another very protective offering, with a much wider toe-box — the Scarpa Spin Ultra. Plus, biomechanics nerds may not be thrilled with the 8mm heel-toe drop. Salomon calls this a “racing only” shoe, but we found it far more durable than their other racing-only offerings such as the Sense line of shoes (which are equally expensive). We enjoy wearing it as a daily trainer, and have used it on a whole bunch of scrambling mountain ascents that we often call “runs.” If you appreciate the most fine-tuned engineering regardless of price, check out the S/Lab Ultra 2.
Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 Review
Best Zero Drop Trail Runner
- Breathable mesh - Wicks sweat and protects foot, whilst being incredibly light.
- Forefoot Rand - Increases durability and support.
- Lightweight Tongue - Provides increased comfort.
- Wider Toe Box - Allows room for swelling.
- Lacing System - Locks down the midfoot.
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 20.9 oz.
The Inov-8 TerraUltra G 270 is the newest, improved version of the older TerraUltra G 260, which was the first shoe in the world to feature the Graphene Grip sole rubber compound. These shoes are far and away our favorite zero drop trail runners, far out-performing the numerous models made by Altra, Merrell, and Topo that we have repeatedly compared them against. They are light, comfortable, very stable, have plenty of protection for running ultra distances, and hold up very well to the test of time. But the best thing about these shoes is the Graphene Grip rubber, which has been tweaked to be much stickier. Graphene has been proven in a lab to be the strongest substance ever tested by man, and Inov-8 was the first to incorporate it into their shoe rubber to drastically improve strength and especially durability. We’ve run in G-grip shoes for three years and are certainly convinced the rubber last longer. That said, it hasn’t always been very sticky, often even feeling slippery to the touch. Change that thought, cause the newly tweaked G-grip now feels on par with the stickiest Salomon Contagrip, and sticks fantastic on rock. These have become some of our favorite scrambling shoes and are a go-to for technical, rocky runs.
Since they are some of the highest performing shoes in our review, we have almost no complaints. A tiny crease at the bottom of the tongue on one of the shoes rubs occasionally, although we’ve never had it manifest in longterm discomfort or a blister. While they are a pricey choice, we’ve found that these shoes feel and look practically new after over 150 miles of rugged mountain running, suggesting they are a far better value than some notoriously short-lived alternatives. Honestly, our biggest problems were incredibly tight calves as these shoes repeatedly coerced us into longer runs than we can handle in zero drop shoes. Regardless of whether you only run zero drop, or whether you just want a pair to add to the rotation, the TerraUltra G 270 are certainly the first ones to try.
Altra Superior 4.5 Review
Best Affordable Zero Drop Option
- Quantic Midsole For Lightweight Ride And Perfect Response
- Maxtrac Outsole And Multi-Directional Lug Pattern For Grippy Traction On Any Terrain
- Improved Upper Offering Better Durability
- Stack Height: 21 mm
- Weight: 8.9 oz / 252 g
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 24.4 oz.
It’s becoming harder and harder to find a “low-priced” pair of trail running shoes these days. The Altra Superior 4.5 have retained the same price point that they had about five years ago, and have continued to improve over time. These are our favorite Altra shoes, a brand with a cult following, and we especially love how they have retained their true foot-splaying shape over time as many other models have gotten smaller, narrower, and heavier. We love how comfortable these shoes are, and often find ourselves wearing them around during our daily lives, not only when we head out for a run. On the trails, they are so light and intimate that we find they offer a refreshing take on the daily run, one that simultaneously feels freeing and requires a shorter, more deliberate and considered cadence.
These shoes are very light on protection, and our feet will let us know if we have pushed it too far with the Superiors on. That said, from our perspective, they are the only Altras that still feel like the minimalist, zero-drop shoes we first fell in love with nearly 10 years ago, and haven’t morphed into heavier, tighter, clunkier replacements. While they are one of our favorite shoes and come at a relatively low price, they are zero drop, so may take a lot of getting used to for those who are used to higher drop shoes.
Salomon Speedcross 5 Review
- Agressive Grip: Obvious and penetrating traction on soft ground
- Precise Foothold: Close-to-foot and comfortable feel
- Lightweight Protection: Just enough to provide protection for technical trail running
- Outsole: Wet Traction Contagrip
- Misole: Molded EVA /Lightweight Muscle/Injected EVA
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 24.4 oz.
The Salomon Speedcross 5 has long been known for its insanely aggressive outsole, a feature that forced almost every competing shoe brand to imitate it. Salomon has improved this by making the rubber on the sole even stickier so that it acts like glue to rock and even wet rock. More significantly, they widened the forefoot of this notoriously narrow shoe by a significant margin. This increased both comfort and wearability for those without narrow feet, while adding to stability with a larger landing platform. These changes, in addition to making the arrow-shaped lugs larger and farther apart for easier mud shedding, and increasing the durability of the already beefy upper, make this the best version of the Speedcross in at least the last six years. The shoe still fits like a glove, with the foot securely locked in place with Salomon’s quick lace system; it feels supremely comfortable right out of the box. We’ve been running in these shoes for more than eight years now and saw our love for them diminish as they got narrower and tighter as time went on. Well, this newest version has won us back over.
This is a shoe that we once again love to run in, but it still has some features that seem a bit outdated. Our biggest gripe is the 10mm heel-toe drop, combined with the very thick and high-off-the-ground heel counter. It’s not only unstable, especially when running downhill, but a bit of a relic of a bygone era in shoe design. It’s also pretty heavy on the spectrum of ever-lighter trail shoes these days, and it retains its reputation for running a bit warm and short on breathability. This means these shoes are better used for higher altitude mountain runs where the air is cool. While a lot of other companies have put serious effort into improving the traction on their shoes, our side-by-side testing shows that the Speedcross simply grips the best. If you enjoy running off-trail or in the mountains where the ground is often wet, snowy, muddy, rocky, and steep, the Speedcross 5 is an ideal choice, with traction unrivaled by any other shoe.
HOKA Speedgoat 4 Review
Best for Maximum Cushioning
- Breathable mesh upper with seamless synthetic overlays
- Breathable textile lining for abrasion-free wear
- Removable, foam padded insole for cushioning and support
- Durable full-length EVA foam midsole to absorb shock and offer stability
- Durable Vibram Megagrip sole with 5mm stepped rubber lugs for grip
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 23.6 oz.
In just over a decade, maximally cushioned Hoka One One shoes have gone from laughably silly to completely normal and mainstream. These shoes offer significant advantages over regular trail runners in the form of drastically increased underfoot protection due to the huge amount of midsole EVA foam cushioning, and also greatly increased shock absorption. Our favorite Maximally Cushioned shoe for trail running is the Hoka Speedgoat 4, the newest version of the shoes designed by Karl Meltzer, the “Speedgoat.” These shoes improve on the already fantastic previous version by widening the toe box slightly, and offering a wide EE shoe for those who simply can’t squeeze their feet into a regular width. The underfoot foam compound has been changed slightly to purportedly be a bit more springy, although our testers had a hard time telling the difference when wearing one new shoe and one Speedgoat 3 on comparative runs. The Vibram Megagrip outsole offers fantastic traction, on all types of terrain, and is, without doubt, the grippiest outsole on any of the many Hoka shoes that we have tested over the years.
While the positives far outweigh the negatives, we will still point out that we are slightly disappointed that this shoe gained about half an ounce of weight, per shoe, compared to the last version. And while we like the new durable mesh upper material that feels thinner, lighter, and simultaneously more burly than what we have become used to, our water bucket test also revealed that it absorbs more water than the last version, and doesn’t shed it as quickly. Due to their increased shock absorption, Hokas have become the most popular shoe for ultra races, and with good reason. We also love how they allow us to bomb down steep hills with a bit more impunity than your average trail runners, and acknowledge that as we age and our bodies lose some of their natural built-in cushioning, the appeal of Hokas continues to grow. Runners who fit into any of the above categories should consider Hokas as a viable choice, and for trail running, look no further than the Speedgoat 4.
Salomon Sense Ride 3 Review
Best Crossover Shoe
- Road-running inspiration: enjoy a more comfortable ride With extra cushioning, optimized midsole with optivibe vibration-reduction and decoupling
- Active comfort: active, homogenous comfort with a soft upper and just the right amount of protection
- All-terrain grip: The full rubber Contagrip outsole offers premium traction, while Profeel film protects your feet from sharp objects on the trail
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8 mm | Weight (per pair, size 11): 23.5 oz.
A lot of people get into trail running from a road running background, and even for those who have been trail running for a long time, it’s not uncommon to pump out a fair portion of the miles on the roads. Enter the crossover shoe, designed to be equally at home on the roads or the trails. If this sounds like the kind of shoe that you are in the market for, then let us recommend the Salomon Sense Ride 3, and exceedingly comfortable trail shoe that is more than capable of also splitting time on the roads. What really sets it apart from the competition is the comfort level. “Ride” along on the dual-level Optivibe foam midsole that really allows one to pound the pavement, even if you are a heel striker. The mesh upper is far wider and more accommodating than we have become used to when wearing Salomon shoes, ensuring that this shoe will appeal to far more than only a narrow-footed audience. Combine this comfort with a very sticky Contagrip rubber outsole, and you have a shoe surprisingly capable across all disciplines.
Like many Salomon shoes, this one is a tad heavy compared to other industry counterparts, but in all honesty isn’t out of line with many other shoes in this review. We also noticed that due to the relatively high stack height combined with an obvious heel counter — a boon for heel strikers — this shoe isn’t super stable on off-camber terrain. If you know the trail you are embarking on is rutted out, or you have a huge side-hill traverse in your future, you may be regretting it in this shoe. That said, we enjoyed this shoe for ultra-distance training runs, where the soft cushioning helped keep our feet feeling fresh. If you like running long distances on any type of terrain, including a helping of roads, these shoes are some that you should check out.
Why You Should Trust Us
The above list of the ” The Best Trail Shoes of 2020″ has been collected from historical data from amazons reviews. We have done this because these are people who are just like you!Someone who was looking at buying a new pair of trail shoes and unsure what features are key. Should that be the Ideal Lug length depending on the terrain.
Further more amazon offers the most competitive prices within the UK Market.